Atop the long list of items to do when buying or selling a house is the home inspection. But what is involved? How much does it cost? Why is it done in the first place? It’s important to understand what a home inspection entails and how it affects the sale of your home or the purchase of a new one. The more you know, the less likely you are to get ripped off or taken by surprise.
What is a Home Inspection?
First of all, let’s clear up a commonly misunderstood point: a home inspection is not the same as an appraisal. An appraisal is an estimate of a property’s overall market value. A home inspection is much more detailed and practical. It is also not a code inspection and therefore does not report on building code compliance or give a “passing” or “failing” grade. It is defined as an objective visual examination of the structure and systems of a home by an impartial, neutral third party not related to the buyer or seller. In layman’s terms, it shows you what’s wrong with the property you want to buy or sell and if it is serious enough to prevent a sale.
The three main points of the inspection are to evaluate the physical condition of the home, including structure, construction and mechanical systems; identify items that need to be repaired or replaced; and estimate the remaining useful life of the major systems, equipment, structure, and finishes. Bottom line: a home inspection is to inform the buyer of any readily visible major defects in the mechanical and structural components, and to disclose any significant health or safety issues.
What Does a Home Inspection Cover?
A home inspection includes a visual examination of the house from top to bottom. There are hundred of items a home inspection covers, including general structure, flashing's, basement or lower level, framing, central cooling and heating, chimneys, plumbing and electrical systems, drainage, bathrooms and laundry facilities, foundation, common safety devices, fireplaces and wood stoves, kitchen and kitchen appliances, general interior, attic, insulation. ventilation, roof, and exterior.
An inspector cannot report on defects that are not visible. For instance, defects hidden behind finished walls, beneath carpeting, behind storage items and in inaccessible areas, and even those that have been intentionally concealed. Systems that are seasonally inoperable (swamp coolers, air conditioning, furnaces) will not be turned on during the inspection. Your home inspector will also most likely recommend any additional inspections that you might want to consider such as a roofing contractor, sewer scope inspection or mold inspector. While a home inspection is not required in the state of Arizona, its a good idea to have one completed.
How Do I Find an Inspector?
To hire an inspector, get recommendations from your Realtor, or from friends and family. When interviewing inspectors, be sure to ask for references and any memberships in professional associations. Find out about the inspector’s professional training, length of time in the business, and experience. Your realtor will most likely have a list to choose from or even have their "go-to" inspector. You are not obligated to use the one they recommend, but it never hurts to check them out. Not all home inspectors are the same, so do your research before just selecting one.
It’s a good idea to be present during the inspection for a couple of reasons: First, you can ask the inspector questions during the inspection. Also, the inspector will have the opportunity to point out areas of potential trouble, which will mean more to you if you see it with your own eyes than read it in the inspector’s report later. Many inspectors also will offer maintenance tips as the inspection progresses.
Is the Seller Obligated to Make Suggested Repairs?
The seller is not required to make any repairs, replacements or maintenance since this is not a code inspection. You will get to submit a list of repair request and the seller can approve all, some or none of the repairs. It is a good idea to keep the list small and only ask for the major ticket items or deal breakers. If you ask for everything, they can choose to fix 4 of the small items and say no to the AC and roof repairs. If your home inspector writes up 25 different items and you only ask for 3, chances are they will say yes since you are taking care of the rest after closing. Your realtor will be able to make suggestions on what they should fix and what can wait. There is no re-negotiation on repairs, this is a one and done request so choose wisely. You can also choose to walk away based on the home inspection report and the sellers response.
Also, never allow an inspector to contract with you to make repairs he/she has suggested — this is a major conflict of interest, not to mention unethical. However, some inspectors do offer a guarantee or warranty on their service for an additional fee, although it is not a standard practice and not required.
How Much Does it Cost and How Long Will it Take?
Remember that a thorough, accurate home inspection takes time. The last thing you want to do is to try to hurry the inspector along. The inspector’s most important priority is accuracy, and accuracy takes time. The chances of mistakes and missed conditions are much more likely the more the inspector rushes through. Expect your home inspection to take anywhere between two and five hours (allowing about one hour for each 1,500 square feet of living space over 3,500 square feet). Of course, older homes will take longer than newer ones.
Expect your inspection to cost anywhere from $200-$500 depending on size. The cost is worth it and may be one of the most important investments you make when buying a home.